I was anxious, fearful and addicted to non-stop news

Here’s how I slowed down — without going off the grid.

Rob Howard
Sep 15, 2017 · 3 min read

Decades from now, our kids will make movies about us. I have a feeling one of the recurring characters will be a strung-out millennial who looks up from his phone, exasperated, and says, “Dude, 2016 was a crazy year.”

We’ve just emerged from one of the most intense information-overload experiences in modern history. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been anxious, exhausted and desperately in search of a way to stay informed about current events without losing control of your brain.

  • My news feed used to be fun. Now it’s an infinitely scrolling vortex of controversy and anger.
  • Reading about current events used to be a learning experience. Now I have to limit myself and build my own filters, because I can’t trust ad-driven publications to have my best interest at heart.
  • There have always been problems — but there have also been limits to how much I can read. With infinite information in my pocket, it’s impossible to relax.

The challenge is that even the best, most reputable publications are stuck in an Internet economy that rewards page views, clickthroughs and attention rather than reasoned, educational content. With no filter on how much we can read, and an economic incentive for publications to engage with us 24/7, we are trapped in a vicious cycle of unlimited stimulation and growing anxiety.

I tried to find a balance while staying responsible and informed.

My first idea was checking out entirely. But when I went off the grid, I found that I lost an important part of myself — I truly wanted to be an informed, responsible citizen, who was knowledgeable enough to engage in a healthy debate (and smart enough to know when not to).

There was also an incongruence between my career, which relies heavily on technology, and the idea of totally eliminating the web as a source of education and leisure. I want to strike a balance, not skew from one extreme to the other.

The second option was building filters into my life using software and time-management techniques. This works to a degree, but ultimately relies on willpower, which is quickly exhausted and always at odds with publications that want me to read more, more and more.

Finally, I searched high and low for a neurologically balanced, low-frequency news source. When I couldn’t find one, I built my own — a weekly briefing with no links, no likes and no distractions, focusing simply on the verifiable facts around the week’s current events. As I wrote — and as my readership grew — I discovered the secret to relaxing while staying informed:

  • Slow down — news doesn’t need to be daily. When you check in weekly, the chaos quickly fades away and the real, tangible event come into focus.
  • Use social media for fun — sharing photos, keeping in touch with friends — but keep it out of learning, education and news.
  • Say no to clickbait — that includes sensational headlines and superfluous links within articles. They’re distracting, and they’re far more beneficial to advertisers (who want more page views) than readers (who want to learn).

It’s a challenge to be an informed, responsible citizen without subjecting yourself to anxiety and overwhelm. The sad truth is that most publications have an economic incentive to keep you clicking. Until that changes, it’s up to us to find a way to remain balanced, knowledgeable and engaged — in spite of what Internet publishing has become.

Rob Howard is the author of Hiatus, a free, weekly current events briefing with no links, no likes and no distractions. In five minutes a week, you get the knowledge you need to be an informed, responsible citizen.

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Rob Howard

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